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Book review Book reviews Tuesday Book Blog

#TuesdayBookBlog A YEAR IN THE LIFE OF LEAH BRAND: A PSYCHOLOGICAL THRILLER (A Year in the Life of … Book 1) by Lucinda E Clarke (@LucindaEClarke). A solid domestic noir page turner

Hi all:

I bring you a book from an author I’m sure many of you will have come across already. I’m sure it won’t be the last one of her books I read.

A Year in the Life of Leah Brand: A Psychological Thriller (A Year in the Life of … Book 1) by Lucinda E Clarke

A Year in the Life of Leah Brand: A Psychological Thriller (A Year in the Life of … Book 1) by Lucinda E Clarke

Leah’s nightmare began the day the dog died.

A few years earlier a fatal car crash took the lives of Leah’s beloved husband and their two babies, leaving her disabled. Life looked bleak. She was approaching forty, unemployed, broke and desperate.

Then she met Mason. He was charming, charismatic, persuasive, and a successful businessman, well respected in the community. His teenage daughter did nothing to welcome Leah into the family, but life is never perfect.

Then, two years into her second marriage, Leah Brand’s world is turned upside down; inanimate objects in the house move, her clothes are left out for the rubbish collection, pieces of furniture change places, there are unexplained noises and hauntings.

As the disturbances increase, everyone accuses Leah of losing her mind. Soon she begins to doubt herself and she starts to spiral down into a world of insanity. Is she going mad, or is someone out to destroy her? And if so, why?

A gripping, psychological thriller for fans of Mary Higgins Clarke and Louise Jensen.

https://www.amazon.com/Year-Life-Leah-Brand-Psychological-ebook/dp/B07WHJKGXF/

https://www.amazon.co.uk/Year-Life-Leah-Brand-Psychological-ebook/dp/B07WHJKGXF/

https://www.amazon.es/Year-Life-Leah-Brand-Psychological-ebook/dp/B07WHJKGXF/

Author Lucinda E. Clarke

About the author:

Lucinda E Clarke was born in Dublin but has lived in 8 other countries to date. She wanted to write but was railroaded into teaching. She fell into other careers; radio announcer, riding school owner, sewing giant teddy bears. She began scriptwriting professionally in 1986 winning over 20 awards. She also wrote mayoral speeches, company reports, drama documentaries, educational programmes, adverts, news inserts, court presentations, videos for National Geographic, cookery programmes and street theatre to name but a few!

She lectured in scriptwriting, had her own column in various publications, and wrote articles for national magazines. She was commissioned for two educational books by Heinemann and Macmillan, and book reports for UNESCO and UNICEF.

She set up and ran her own video production company in South Africa.

“Walking Over Eggshells” was her first self-published book, an autobiography describing the emotional abuse she suffered from early childhood and subsequent travels and adventures.

She published her second book a novel, “Amie: African Adventure” in July 2014, which was a #1 bestseller in genre on both sides of the Atlantic.

Lucinda’s third book “Truth, Lies, and Propaganda”, was followed by “More Truth, Lies and Propaganda” – memoirs about her career in the print and broadcast media, highlighting South Africa and its people.

“Amie Savage Safari” is the 5th in the Amie in Africa award-winning series – the world’s most reluctant and incompetent spy is in trouble again.

In 2019 Lucinda changed genre and published the first in a series of psychological thrillers. “A Year in the life of Leah Brand” was followed by “A Year in the Life of Andrea Coe.” Book 3 is due out in September 2020.

https://www.amazon.com/Lucinda-E-Clarke/e/B00FDWB914

My review:

I purchased a copy of this novel that I am also reviewing it as a member of Rosie’s Book Review Team (authors, check here if you want to get your book reviewed).

I have been a follower of the author’s blog for some time, and I know that she has been a writer (among many other things) for a long time, in different genres, although this was the first time she published a psychological thriller. Having read many great reviews of this novel and the other two in the series, I was intrigued as this is one of my favourite genres.

I find this review quite difficult to write because I don’t think I am the ideal reader for this book. I am sure people who don’t work in mental health and don’t read as many thrillers as I do will not have the same issues I had. Let me clarify. Clarke knows how to write, for sure. She builds up the tension slowly, creates credible (they might be annoying and irritating at times, but that is what makes them real) characters, has a great sense of rhythm and pace (things seem to be happening slowly at first, then get increasingly faster; we have breaks to allow us to catch our breath, and then things get even weirder and scarier), and piles up ambiguous evidence that can be interpreted in different ways. She also chooses well the point of view of the story; it is told in the first person (so readers who don’t like first-person narratives, be warned) from Leah’s perspective, and that allows us to experience all her doubts, hesitations, and to witness events through her eyes. Due to the nature of the story, that works perfectly well, as it manages to keep the surprises well-hidden. (I suspected what was happening from early on, but then… No, no spoilers).

However, some aspects of the plot stretched too much my suspension of disbelief, to the point where the story lost some of its hold on me. As a habitual reader of thrillers and police procedural novels, I do prefer books in those genres to be —even when the events might be rather extreme— fairly realistic when it comes to details and settings, unless they blend genres or take place in an alternative universe. For me, this book seems to fit into the domestic noir category that has become quite popular in recent years, and I am slowly coming to the realisation that this genre is not a great fit for me. I have similar issues with it as I have with cozy mysteries: I like the premise; in some cases I really enjoy the story and the characters; but there are aspects that don’t work for me, mostly to do with the actual mystery.

I won’t go into a lot of detail about the plot, to avoid spoilers and also because the description offers readers enough information already. My favourite character was Aunt Deirdre. Leah, the protagonist, has survived such tough and dramatic circumstances that it’s impossible not to sympathise with her, but I must admit to finding her annoying at times and wanting to grab her and force her to take charge of things, while at the same time imagining how hard it would be to have to face what she was going through, feeling so helpless after being undermined at every turn. Most of the other characters are dislikeable or ambiguous (they seem to blow hot and cold or are nasty most of the time), and there are some we don’t get to know too well, but, of course, as we see everything from the character’s perspective, sometimes it’s difficult to extricate what is what (and that’s the point, evidently).

As I said, the book is well-written, the pacing, the clues and red-herrings build-up and grab readers’ attention, and there is no excess violence or any explicit sex scenes. The thrill (or the threat) is mostly psychological, and the effect on Leah’s character and self-confidence are compellingly portrayed. The self-doubts and her hesitation ring true as well.

I’ve already said that some of my issues with the believability of the story are probably due to my experience working as a psychiatrist in the UK, and that means that some of the details of the story don’t work for me, but that shouldn’t put off other prospective readers. I also found there was a twist too many in the story, and that’s all I’ll say about the ending.

After reading a sample of Clarke’s Amie: African Adventure, I am sure I’ll be reading more of her books, but perhaps in other genres.

This is a page-turner and I’m sure readers of domestic noir who prefer stories with no explicit violence, love a first-person narrative and an ambiguous/unreliable narrator, will enjoy this story. A fun and fast read, but not exactly what I was looking for.

Thanks to Rosie and her team for their hard work and support (reviewers, please visit and join), thanks to the author for her novel and thank you for reading, liking, sharing, reviewing… And remember to keep safe!

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Book review Book reviews

THE HUNTING PARTY: A NOVEL by Lucy Foley (@HarperCollinsUK) (@lucyfoleytweets) A twisted mystery and an homage to the classics of the genre

Hi all:

I bring you a mystery that although reminiscent of old classics, is fairly more twisted and dark than mysteries of old.

The Hunting Party by Lucy Foley

The Hunting Party: A Novel by Lucy Foley

AN INSTANT SUNDAY TIMES BESTSELLER

NAMED ONE OF THE MOST ANTICIPATED THRILLERS OF THE WINTER BY:

Goodreads • BookBub • PopSugar • BookRiot • Crimereads • Pure Wow • Crime by the Book

ALL OF THEM ARE FRIENDS. ONE OF THEM IS A KILLER.

“A ripping, riveting murder mystery — wily as Agatha Christie, charged with real menace, real depth. Perfect for fans of Ruth Ware.” – A.J. Finn, #1 New York Times bestselling author of The Woman in the Window

During the languid days of the Christmas break, a group of thirtysomething friends from Oxford meet to welcome in the New Year together, a tradition they began as students ten years ago. For this vacation, they’ve chosen an idyllic and isolated estate in the Scottish Highlands—the perfect place to get away and unwind by themselves.

The trip began innocently enough: admiring the stunning if foreboding scenery, champagne in front of a crackling fire, and reminiscences about the past. But after a decade, the weight of secret resentments has grown too heavy for the group’s tenuous nostalgia to bear. Amid the boisterous revelry of New Year’s Eve, the cord holding them together snaps.

Now, on New Year’s Day, one of them is dead . . . and another of them did it.

DON’T BE LEFT OUT. JOIN THE PARTY NOW.

https://www.amazon.com/Hunting-Party-Novel-Lucy-Foley-ebook/dp/B07B7LLJLZ/

https://www.amazon.co.uk/Hunting-Party-Novel-Lucy-Foley-ebook/dp/B07B7LLJLZ/

https://www.amazon.es/Hunting-Party-Novel-Lucy-Foley-ebook/dp/B07B7LLJLZ/

About the author:

Lucy Foley studied English Literature at Durham and UCL universities and worked for several years as a fiction editor in the publishing industry, before leaving to write full-time. The Hunting Party is her debut crime novel, inspired by a particularly remote spot in Scotland that fired her imagination.

Lucy is also the author of three historical novels, which have been translated into sixteen languages.

Follow her on:

Twitter: @lucyfoleytweets
Instagram: @lucy_foley_author
Facebook.com/lucyfoleyauthor

https://www.amazon.com/Lucy-Foley/e/B00LMBVZNC?

My review:

I thank Harper Collins UK and NetGalley for providing me an ARC copy of this novel, which I freely chose to review.

Lucy Foley is a new author to me, but I was intrigued by the premise of the book, which promised to be a look back at the classics but with a modern touch. The format is easily recognisable (a group of people isolated in a somewhat strange setting, a crime, and the suspicions that fall on all those present). I had recently read The Glass Hotel and although they are set in very different locations (the hotel here is in the Scottish Highlands), there were some similarities in the isolation of the place, and in the motivations of some of the employees to seek such isolation, but this is a more conventional caper, where everybody hides secrets, dislikes and even hatreds, and there is a lot of emphasis placed on the relationship between the university friends who go on holiday together even though they no longer have much in common, and whom we get to know pretty well during the book.

There are plenty of lies, obscure motivations, relationships that are not what they seem to be, infidelity, popularity contests, friction between the so-called friends, and the book is told in two separate timeframes, one after the crime (although a bit like in Big Little Lies, we hear about the aftermath of the crime, but who the victim is doesn’t get revealed until almost the very end), and another that follows chronologically from the time when the friends set off towards their holiday destination. Eventually, both narratives catch up, and we get a full understanding of what has gone on.  It’s a great strategy to keep readers guessing, and although I did have my suspicions of at least some of the things that were to come, I admit that there are some interesting red herring thrown into the works . Readers need to remain attentive to the changes in time frame to avoid getting confused as to when things have taken place, although this is clearly stated in the novel.

One of the problems some readers seem to have with the novel is that the characters are not terribly likeable. The story is narrated mostly from the point of view of several of the women: three of the female friends (Emma, the newest one to arrive in the group; Miranda, the Queen Bee who never quite lived up to everybody’s expectations; and Katie, Miranda’s best friend, the only single one, who seems to have outgrown the group in many ways ), and also Heather, the manager of the hotel, who has secrets of her own (and is one of the nicest characters)— all of them told in the first person—, and one man’s point of view, Doug, another employee of the hotel, although in his case we get a third-person account, and one marred by many of his personal difficulties (let’s say that he is not a very reliable narrator). Reading the events from several points of view helps us gain perspective and heightens our suspicions as to what might really be going on. I must agree that the characters, probably because we are privy to their internal thoughts rather than to others’ opinions of them, are difficult to like. Self-obsessed or obsessed with others, with random likes and dislikes, cruel, or unable to face the truth… none of them are people most of us would choose as friends. Considering this is a book about a group of friends, it does offer a particularly grim view of old friendships, emphasising the lack of sincerity and honesty and the dark undertones to most of the relationships between them. On the other hand, I must admit that dark —or at least grey— characters make for a much more interesting reading experience than goody two-shoes.

The writing style is straight forward and manages to create a clear image of the characters in the reader’s mind. There are some rather memorable scenes as well, but the book takes its time building up the background and the relationships, rather than moving at a fast pace, but still manages to keep readers intrigued and interested.

As I said, I had my suspicions about who the guilty party might be and what was behind the murder from early on (the clues are all there), but nonetheless I found the ending satisfying, and I think most readers will feel the same.

In sum, a solid thriller, that brings back memories of old style mystery novels, with more emphasis on the psychological aspect, and which also has much in common with the domestic noir style (although here transposed to the Highlands). An interesting novel for lovers of the genre, and one that I’m sure in the right hands could be turned into a successful movie.

Oh, an update on my news. The course is hard but not going too badly so far, but due to the Coronavirus all the schools and institutes have been closed, and we’ll do what we can online, but as we have to also teach students, and at the moment we don’t know when that will be possible, I might not be back as soon as I expected, or I might be back and disappear again. I’ll keep you posted, but will carry on posting reviews when I have a chance.

Thanks to the publisher, the author and NetGalley, thanks to all of you for reading, and remember to keep smiling! And be safe!

 

 

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Book review Book reviews

#Bookreview THE NOWHERE CHILD by Christian White (@CWhiteAuthor) (@HarperCollinsUK) Dark, scary, and gripping.

Hi all:

You’ve probably noticed that I’ve read and reviewed quite a few books written by Australian authors recently, and here comes another one. I’m not sure why, but I suspect this won’t be the last one either.

The Nowhere Child by Christian White
The Nowhere Child by Christian White

The Nowhere Child: The bestselling debut psychological thriller you need to read in 2019 by Christian White

A little girl went missing years ago. That child is you.

A dark and gripping debut psychological thriller that won the 2017 Victorian Premier’s Literary Award, previously won by THE DRY and THE ROSIE PROJECT.

‘Read page one, and you won’t stop. Guaranteed’ Jeffery Deaver

A child was stolen twenty years ago
Little Sammy Went vanishes from her home in Manson, Kentucky – an event that devastates her family and tears apart the town’s deeply religious community.

And somehow that missing girl is you
Kim Leamy, an Australian photographer, is approached by a stranger who turns her world upside down – he claims she is the kidnapped Sammy and that everything she knows about herself is based on a lie.

How far will you go to uncover the truth?
In search of answers, Kim returns to the remote town of Sammy’s childhood to face up to the ghosts of her early life. But the deeper she digs into her family background the more secrets she uncovers… And the closer she gets to confronting the trauma of her dark and twisted past.

https://www.amazon.com/Nowhere-Child-bestselling-psychological-thriller-ebook/dp/B07FV282YY/

https://www.amazon.co.uk/Nowhere-Child-bestselling-psychological-thriller-ebook/dp/B07FV282YY/

Editorial Reviews

“A nervy, soulful, genuinely surprising it-could-happen-to-you thriller ― a book to make you peer over your shoulder for days afterwards.”―A.J. Finn, New York Times bestselling author of The Woman in the Window

A stunning debut…White skillfully creates a credible story filled with surprises and realistic characters worth caring about.”―Associated Press

The Nowhere Child is the personification of a high-concept thriller, brilliantly executed. White raises the bar on psychological suspense, telling Kim Leamy’s tale in a stylish voice and with a heart-pounding pace. Read page one, and you won’t stop. Guaranteed.”―Jeffery Deaver, New York Times bestselling author

The Nowhere Child is compelling and intense. The alternating chapters between past and present are perfectly paced and masterfully written to maximize suspense and lead us down a path of love, hate, redemption, and―ultimately―hope. I literally could not put this book down until I turned the last page. The best debut novel I’ve read in years.”―Allison Brennan, New York Times bestselling author of the Lucy Kincaid and Max Revere series

The Nowhere Child is pure dynamite. The high concept premise grabbed me from the first page and refused to let me go until I finished. You may try to read it slowly, so you can savor every single word, but the story is so all-encompassing―the need to know what happens next so urgent―you’ll forget all about savoring and find yourself tearing through the pages as fast as your fingers can manage. You do not want to miss this book!”―Linda Castillo, New York Times bestselling author of the Kate Burkholder series

The Nowhere Child is a well-written thriller that avoids the clichés of the genre. The characters are interesting and believable and the book kept me reading up to the satisfying conclusion.” ―Phillip Margolin, New York Times bestselling author of The Third Victim

An impressive debut novel, deftly plotted, constantly shifting and full of vivid characters.”― Garry Disher, author of the Inspector Challis mysteries

“White skillfully builds an uncertain, noxious world of dysfunctional families and small-town secrets. The Nowhere Child is a gripping debut from an exceptional new talent.”― Mark Brandi, Crime Writers’ Association Debut Dagger Award-Winning author of Wimmera

“Such a clever idea, which grips from the very first chapter.”―Ragnar Jonasson, author of Snowblind

“Beautifully written, perfectly suspenseful and wonderfully dark. I could not put this book down.”― Susi Holliday, author of The Deaths of December

Packed with tension, twists and tremendous pace, it’s hard to believe that this is the work of a debut author. The Nowhere Child is stunning and flawless. I can’t recommend it enough.”― Thomas Enger, author of Burned

The Nowhere Child is a fabulous read, populated by such well-drawn and identifiable characters that I felt I knew them. I was desperate to know how the story unfolded. Brilliant!”― Louise Voss, author of From the Cradle

“[An] outstanding debut. By juxtaposing past and present, the author keeps the tension high. The impatient may be tempted to skip ahead, but they shouldn’t. Thriller fans will want to savor every crumb of evidence and catch every clue. White is definitely a writer to watch.”―Publishers Weekly (starred review)

“In this stunning first novel, White weaves stories within stories while keeping the thrilling mystery alive. [A] tightly woven debut thriller.”―Library Journal (starred review)

“White has written a “returning-to-your-southern-roots” tale with a difference; Kim is exploring
roots she never knew she had, and the journey is as bumpy and fraught with bewildered feelings as readers
might imagine. This worthwhile story of a woman’s quest for the truth will work with women’s-fiction readers as well as mystery fans.”―Booklist

“A very auspicious debut…A tightly written book with a dynamite plot.”―Toronto Globe and Mail

Author Christian White
Author Christian White

About the author:

Christian White is an Australian author and screenwriter. His debut novel, The Nowhere Child, won the 2017 Wheeler Centre Victorian Premier’s Literary Award for Best Unpublished Manuscript, and will be published in June through Affirm Press and in multiple territories around the world in 2019.

He also co-created the television series Carnivores, currently in development with Matchbox Pictures and Heyday TV, and co-wrote Relic, a psychological horror feature film to be produced by Carver Films (The Snowtown MurdersPartisan). The film has received funding support through Screen Australia and Film Victoria, and will be directed by Natalie Erika James. He has written several short films that have screened at film festivals around the world, including Creswick, which won Best Short Form Script at the 2017 Australian Writers’ Guild AWGIE Awards.

Born and raised on the Mornington Peninsula, Christian had an eclectic range of ‘day jobs’ before he was able to write fulltime, including food-cart driver on a golf course and video editor for an adult film company. He now spends his days writing from home in Melbourne, where he lives with his wife, filmmaker Summer DeRoche, and their adopted greyhound, Issy. He has a passion for true crime podcasts, Stephen King and anything to do with Bigfoot.

The Nowhere Child is his first book. He’s working on his second.

Follow Christian White on Twitter.

https://www.christian-white.com/

My review:

Thanks to NetGalley and to Harper Collins for providing me an ARC copy of this book, which I freely chose to review.

I’ve read quite a few books by Australian writers recently (Liane Moriarty, Jane Harper, Liza Perrat), and although very different, I enjoyed all of them and could not resist when I saw this novel, especially as it had won an award Harper’s first novel The Dry also won.

Although part of this novel is set in Australia, it is not the largest or the most important part of it. This novel is set in two time frames and in two places, and the distance in time and space seems abysmal at times. The novel starts with a bang. Kim, the main protagonist, an Australian photographer in her late twenties, receives an unexpected visit and some even more unexpected news. This part of the story, the “now”, is narrated in the first person from Kim’s point of view, and that has the effect of putting the readers in her place and making them wonder what they would do and how they would feel if suddenly their lives were turned on their heads, and they discovered everything they thought they knew about themselves, their families, and their identities, was a lie. She is a quiet woman, and although she gets on well with her stepfather and her half-sister, and she badly misses her mother, who died a little while back, she’s always been quite different to the rest of the members of her family, and enjoys her own company more than socialising. There are also strange dreams that bother her from time to time. So, although she does not want to believe it when the stranger tells her she was abducted from a small town in Kentucky as a little girl, she is not as surprised as she should be. At this point, we seem to be in the presence of a domestic drama, one where family secrets are perhaps a bit darker than we are used to, but the plot seems in keeping with the genre. And most of the “now” section of the book is closer in tone and atmosphere to that genre.

But we have the other part. The “then”, written in the third person, from a variety of characters’ points of view. Readers who dislike head-hopping don’t need to worry, though, because each chapter in the “past” section is told from only one character’s point of view, and it is quite clear who that is, avoiding any possible confusion. The story of the background to the kidnapping, and the investigation that followed, is told from the point of view of members of little Sammy’s family, the sheriff (I really liked him), neighbours of the town, and other characters that at first we might not grasp how they are related to the story, but it all ends up making sense eventually. This part of the novel feels much more gripping and dynamic than the other, and although we don’t always follow the characters for very long, the author manages to create credible and sympathetic (or not so sympathetic) individuals, some that we get to feel for and care, and even when they do some pretty horrible things, most of them feel realistic and understandable. And the story of what happened in the past makes for a pretty dark combination of thriller and mystery, well-paced and gripping.

I don’t want to give too much away, but I must say the town of Manson of the novel is a place that seems right out of a dark fairy tale, and I kept thinking of the opening titles of the TV series True Blood (not because of any supernatural thing, but because of some of the images that appear there). While some of the scenes seem typical of a small town in the middle of nowhere, others reminded me of Southern Gothic novels, and, a word of warning: there is violence, and there are scenes that can be terrifying to some readers (although no, this is not a horror novel, the author is not lying when he says he admires and has learned a lot from Stephen King). The story is full of secrets, red-herrings and confusing information, clues that seem clear but are not, and Kim/Sammy is a woman who keeps her emotions to herself, understandably so considering the circumstances. I am not sure many readers will connect with Kim straight away because of her personality, but I understand the author’s choice. If she was an emotional wreck all the time, it would be impossible for her to do what she does and to learn the truth, and the novel would be unbearable to read, more of a melodrama than a thriller or a dark mystery. The part of the story that deals with the present helps reduce the tension somewhat while keeping the intrigue ticking, and although it feels slow and sedate compared to the other part, it does ramp up as they dig into the past and the two stories advance towards their resolution.

Without going into detail, I can say that I enjoyed the ending, and although I suspected what was coming, I only realised what was likely to happen very late in the story. Despite this being the author’s first novel, his screenwriting experience is evident, and he has a knack for creating unforgettable scenes. This is a novel destined to become a movie, for sure, and I’d be surprised if it doesn’t.

This is not a typical mystery or thriller, and although it has elements of the domestic noir, it is perhaps more extreme and darker than others I have read in that genre. We have a very young child being kidnapped; we have murder, extreme religious beliefs, prejudice, postnatal depression, a dysfunctional family, snakes, secrets, lies, child abuse, and more. If you are looking for an intriguing read, don’t mind different timelines and narrators, and are not put off by difficult subjects and scary scenes, you must read this one.

Thanks to NetGalley and to the publisher for the book, thanks to all of you for reading, and remember to like, share, comment, click, review, and keep smiling!

Ah, and in case you’ve never watched True Blood and don’t know what I’m talking about…

Categories
Book review Book reviews Tuesday Book Blog

#TuesdayBookBlog #THELOSTMAN by Jane Harper (@LittleBrownUK)(@caolinndouglas) (@GraceEVincent) (@janeharperautho) As good, if not better, than Harper’s previous books. Read it now! #TheLastMan

I am very grateful for the opportunity to participate in the blog tour for the launch of this fabulous book by an author whose two previous books I have loved so much. And I’m not the only one.

The Lost Man by Jane Harper
The Lost Man by Jane Harper

The Lost Man by Jane Harper

Two brothers meet in the remote Australian outback when the third brother is found dead, in this stunning new standalone novel from New York Times bestseller Jane Harper

Two brothers meet at the remote fence line separating their cattle ranches in the lonely outback. In an isolated belt of Western Australia, they are each other’s nearest neighbor, their homes four hours’ drive apart.

The third brother lies dead at their feet.

Something caused Cam, the middle child who had been in charge of the family homestead, to die alone in the middle of nowhere.

So the eldest brother returns with his younger sibling to the family property and those left behind. But the fragile balance of the ranch is threatened. Amidst the grief, suspicion starts to take hold, and the eldest brother begins to wonder if more than one among them is at risk of crumbling as the weight of isolation bears down on them all.

Dark, suspenseful, and deeply atmospheric, The Lost Man is the highly anticipated next book from the bestselling and award-winning Jane Harper, author of The Dry and Force of Nature.

 

https://www.amazon.co.uk/Lost-Man-Jane-Harper/dp/0349142130/

https://www.amazon.com/Lost-Man-Jane-Harper/dp/0349142130/

https://www.amazon.com/Lost-Man-Jane-Harper-ebook/dp/B07FM4HQ9N/

https://www.amazon.co.uk/Lost-Man-Jane-Harper-ebook/dp/B07FM4HQ9N/

Author Jane Harper
Author Jane Harper

About the author:

Jane Harper’s debut novel The Dry is an atmospheric thriller set in regional Australia.
The novel won the Victorian Premier’s Literary Award for an Unpublished Manuscript in 2015 and rights have since been sold in more than 20 territories.
The Dry was a No.1 bestseller in Australia and has been optioned for a film by Reese Witherspoon and Bruna Papandrea’s production company, Pacific Standard.
Jane worked as a print journalist for 13 years both in Australia and the UK and lives in Melbourne with her family.

https://www.amazon.com/Jane-Harper/e/B001KI8MCE/

My review:

Thanks to NetGalley and to Little, Brown Book Group UK, for offering me an ARC copy of this book that I freely chose to review. I’m also grateful to have been given the opportunity to participate in the blog tour for the launch of the book. After having read both of Jane Harper’s previous books, The Dry (you can check my review here) and Force of Nature (here is my review), I rushed to grab this one as soon as I saw it was available. And yes, although it is quite different from the other two, it is another winner.

The two previous books, two thrillers/mysteries, had as protagonist Aaron Falk, a federal investigator of fraud and related crimes, who somehow gets involved in cases outside his comfort zone, for different reasons. Here, there is no professional investigator (however loosely Falk’s credentials might relate to the mystery at hand). I had mentioned in my reviews of the two previous books the fact that the stories put me in mind of domestic noir, and this is even more the case here. It might sound strange to talk about noir when the setting is the Australian outback (the nearest town is Balamara, Winton, Queensland), but plot and character-wise, it fits neatly into the category. And it is atmospheric, for sure. Harper is masterful at making us feel as if we were there, in this unusual and totally unique place, where going out for a walk might end up getting you killed.

The story is set around Christmas time, (summer in Australia), and is told in the third person from the point of view of Nathan Bright, the oldest son of the Bright family, who lives alone in his farm after his divorce, four hours away from the rest of his family, and very far from his ex-wife and his son, Xander, who live in Brisbane. Xander is visiting his father for Christmas (he is sixteen and due to his studies it is likely this might be the last Christmas they spend together for the foreseeable future), and as they prepare to celebrate the holidays, Nathan gets a call. His middle brother, Cameron, has been found dead in pretty strange circumstances. His dead body was by the stockman’s grave, a grave in the middle of the desert subject of many stories and local legends, and a place Cameron had made popular thanks to one of his paintings. Bub, the younger brother, is waiting for Nathan and explains to him that their brother’s car was found nine miles away, in perfect working order, fully stocked with food and water. So, what was their brother doing there, and why did he die of dehydration? When the questions start coming, it seems that Cam, a favourite in town and well-liked by everybody, had not been himself recently and seemed worried. Was it suicide then, or something else?

Nathan is not the typical amateur detective of cozy mysteries, another aspect that reminds me of domestic noir. He is not somebody who enjoys mysteries, or a secret genius, and he only gets involved because he keeps observing things that don’t seem to fit in with the official explanation. As this is his family, he cannot help but keep digging and has to remain involved because, for one, he has to attend his brother’s funeral. The main characters in domestic noir tend to have troubled lives and be hindered by their problems, no matter how convinced they are that they have it all under control. As the book progresses, they learn how wrong they are. In this case, Nathan is a flawed character and lacks insight into his state of mind and that of his life. He has committed some terrible mistakes (perhaps even unforgivable ones), and he is the black sheep of the family, in appearance at least. As you might expect, things are not as they seem, and during the book he grows and learns, and not only about his brother’s death. Nathan might not be the most familiar of characters or the most immediately sympathetic to many readers due to his closed-off nature, but through the novel we also learn about his past and the circumstances that made him the man he is now.

The clues to the case appear at a slow pace and naturally, rather than feeling forced, and they do not require a lot of procedural or specialized knowledge. There are also red herrings, but most of them go beyond an attempt at wrong-footing readers, and provide important background information that helps build up a full picture of the people and the place. In style, the book reminds us of old-fashioned mysteries, without extreme violence or excessive attention being paid to the procedures of the police or to complex tests. No DNA tests and no CSI on sight here. This is a book about characters, motivations, and the secrets families keep.

In contrast to the first two novels written by Harper, this book is deceptively simple in its structure. The book takes place over a few days, around Christmas, and, as I said, it is all told from the point of view of Nathan. The story is told chronologically, although there are moments when we get some important background into the story, be it thanks to Nathan’s memories, or to episodes and events narrated to him by other characters. The book manages to keep a good balance between showing and telling and it is very atmospheric, although it moves at its own pace, meandering and perfectly suited to the setting. I’ve never visited the Australian outback and have never experienced anything like the extreme weather conditions described in the book, but I felt the oppressive sensation, the heat, the agoraphobia induced by the open spaces, and the horror of imagining yourself in Cam’s circumstances. The initial setting, with the lonely gravestone, made me think of a Western, and the life in the ranch, isolated and extreme, where surviving requires a daily fight against the elements, made the story feel primordial and timeless. Although the story is set in modern times (there is no specific date, but despite the distance from civilisation, there is talk of mobiles, internet, GPS, etc.), due to the location, people are forced to live as if time had not truly moved on, and they have to depend on themselves and those around them, because if your car or your air conditioning break down, it could mean your death.

Apart from her evident skill in describing Australia and everyday life in the outback (she refers to her research and sources in her acknowledgments), the author is masterful at creating characters that are multi-dimensional and psychologically and emotionally believable, as I explained when talking about the main protagonist. These are people used to living alone and not allowing their vulnerabilities to show. Even within the family, its members keep secrets from each other and don’t share their feelings, although they might all know about what has happened, because that’s what they’ve always seen and known, and perhaps they believe that if you don’t talk about it you can keep it contained. The secrets are slowly revealed, and although many readers will suspect the nature of some of them, that does not diminish their power and impact. The themes discussed are, unfortunately, very current, and although I won’t talk about them in detail, to avoid spoilers, I am sure they will resonate with most readers. Although the ending will probably not be a huge surprise to most readers, it is built up expertly, and I found it very satisfying.

I had to share a couple of samples of writing, although it was a hard choice:

In the centre was a headstone, blasted smooth by a hundred-year assault from sand, wind and sun. The headstone stood a metre tall and was still perfectly straight. It faced west, towards the desert, which was unusual out there. West was rarely anyone’s first choice.

The name of the man buried beneath had long since vanished and the landmark was known to locals —all sixty-five of them, plus 100,000 head of cattle— simply as the stockman’s grave. That piece of land had never been a cemetery; the stockman had been put into the ground where he had died, and in more than a century no-one had joined him.

There was something about the brutal heat when the sun was high in the sky and he was watching the slow meandering movement of the herds. Looking out over the wide-open plains and seeing the changing colours in the dust. It was the only time when he felt something close to happiness… It was harsh and unforgiving, but it felt like home.

In sum, this is a book for people who enjoy an unusual mystery and books focused on characters rather than fast-paced plots. If you love well-written books, and don’t mind investing some time into the story and its characters, especially if you are keen on an Australian setting, you should not miss this one. I will be on the lookout for the author’s next book.

Thanks to NetGalley the publisher and to this author I wholeheartedly recommend, thanks to all of you for reading and remember to like, share, comment, click, review, and keep smiling!

Categories
Book review Book reviews Tuesday Book Blog

#TuesdayBookBlog #Newbook MY SISTER, THE SERIAL KILLER by Oyinkan Braithwaite (@OyinBraithwaite) (@doubledaybooks) Domestic noir, dark humour, and a fantastic new voice

Hi all:

I was intrigued by this book from the moment I saw it…

My Sister, the Serial Killer by Oyinkan Braithwaite

“Feverishly hot”–PAULA HAWKINS

“The wittiest and most fun murder party you’ve ever been invited to.”–MARIE CLAIRE

A short, darkly funny, hand grenade of a novel about a Nigerian woman whose younger sister has a very inconvenient habit of killing her boyfriends

“Femi makes three, you know. Three and they label you a serial killer.”

Korede is bitter. How could she not be? Her sister, Ayoola, is many things: the favorite child, the beautiful one, possibly sociopathic. And now Ayoola’s third boyfriend in a row is dead.

Korede’s practicality is the sisters’ saving grace. She knows the best solutions for cleaning blood, the trunk of her car is big enough for a body, and she keeps Ayoola from posting pictures of her dinner to Instagram when she should be mourning her “missing” boyfriend. Not that she gets any credit.

Korede has long been in love with a kind, handsome doctor at the hospital where she works. She dreams of the day when he will realize that she’s exactly what he needs. But when he asks Korede for Ayoola’s phone number, she must reckon with what her sister has become and how far she’s willing to go to protect her.

Sharp as nails and full of deadpan wit, Oyinkan Braithwaite’s deliciously deadly debut is as fun as it is frightening.

https://www.amazon.com/My-Sister-Serial-Killer-Novel-ebook/dp/B079WNMQ4V/

https://www.amazon.co.uk/My-Sister-Serial-Killer-Feverishly-ebook/dp/B07D7KJV13/

Editorial reviews:

“This riveting, brutally hilarious, ultra-dark novel is an explosive debut by Oyinkan Braithwaite, and heralds an exciting new literary voice… Delicious.”

–Nylon

“You can’t help flying through the pages..”

–Buzzfeed

“Lethally elegant”

–Luke Jennings, author of Killing Eve: Codename Villanelle

“Strange, funny and oddly touching…Pretty much perfect…It wears its weirdness excellently.”

–LitHub

“Who is more dangerous? A femme fatale murderess or the quiet, plain woman who cleans up her messes? I never knew what was going to happen, but found myself pulling for both sisters, as I relished the creepiness and humor of this modern noir.”

–Helen Ellis, New York Times bestselling author of American Housewife

“Disturbing, sly and delicious, Braithwaite’s novel compels us to consider the limits of loyalty and the insidious weight of silence.”

–Ayobami Adebayo, author of Stay With Me

“Braithwaite’s blazing debut is as sharp as a knife…bitingly funny and brilliantly executed, with not a single word out of place.”

–Publishers Weekly, (starred review)

“A gem, in the most accurate sense: small, hard, sharp, and polished to perfection. Every pill-sized chapter is exemplary. Where others waste ink and trees, Braithwaite can conjure fully-detailed settings and characters with a finger snap. Of these, all shine. One dazzles. Tell Shirley Jackson that the Merricat Blackwood of the 21st century lives in Lagos, her name is Ayoola, and she is so obliviously/adorably/hilariously/heartbreakingly wicked, she’ll make you cry tears of all flavors.”

–Edgar Cantero, New York Times bestselling author of Meddling Kids

“Sly, risky, and filled with surprises, Oyinkan Braithwaite holds nothing back in this wry and refreshingly inventive novel about violence, sister rivalries and simply staying alive.”

–Idra Novey, author of Those Who Knew and Ways to Disappear

Author Oyinkan Braithwaite
Author Oyinkan Braithwaite

About the author:

Oyinkan Braithwaite is a graduate of Creative Writing and Law from Kingston University. Following her degree, she worked as an assistant editor at Kachifo and has been freelancing as a writer and editor since. She has had short stories published in anthologies and has also self-published work.

In 2014, she was shortlisted as a top ten spoken word artist in the Eko Poetry Slam.

In 2016, she was shortlisted for the Commonwealth Short Story Prize

My review:

Thanks to NetGalley and to Atlantic Books (Doubleday) for providing me an ARC copy of this book that I freely chose to review.

The title of this book hooked me. The fact that it was set in Lagos, Nigeria, made it more attractive. I could not resist the cover. And then I started reading and got hit by this first paragraph:

“Ayoola summons me with these words —Korede, I killed him. I had hoped I would never hear those words again.”

Told in the first person by Korede, the book narrates her story and that of her “complex” relationship with her younger sister, Ayoola, beautiful, graceful, a successful designer, beloved of social media, irresistible to men, the favourite of everybody… She’s almost perfect. But, there is a big but, which you will have guessed from the title. She is a serial killer.

This is a short and very funny book, although it requires a certain kind of sense of humour on the part of the reader. You need to be able to appreciate sarcasm and dark humour (very dark) to find it funny, but if you do, this is a fresh voice and a different take on what has become an extremely popular genre recently, domestic noir. I kept thinking about the many novels I had read where I had commented on the setting of the book and how well the author had captured it. There are no lengthy descriptions in this novel, but it manages to capture the beat and the rhythm of Lagos (a place where I’ve never been, I must admit) and makes us appreciate what life must be like for the protagonists. Because, although Ayoola is a murderer, life goes on, and Korede has to keep working as a nurse, she is still in love (or so she thinks) with one of the doctors at the hospital, their mother still suffers from her headaches, Ayoola wants to carry on posting on Snapchat, the patient in coma Korede confides in needs to be looked after, the police need to be seen to be doing something, and there are more men keen on spending time with beautiful Ayoola…

I found Korede understandable, although I doubt that we are meant to empathise with her full-heartedly. At some points, she seems to be a victim, trapped in a situation she has no control over. At others, we realise that we only have her own opinion of her sister’s behaviour, and she has enabled the murderous activities of her sibling, in a strange symbiotic relationship where neither one of them can imagine life without the other. We learn of their traumatic past, and we can’t help but wonder what would we do faced with such a situation? If your sister was a psychopath (not a real psychiatric diagnosis, but I’m sure she’d score quite high in the psychopathy scale if her sister’s description is accurate) who kept getting into trouble, always blaming it on others, would you believe her and support her? Would you help her hide her crimes? Is blood stronger than everything else?

I loved the setting, the wonderful little scenes (like when Tade, the attractive doctor, sings and the whole city stops to listen, or when the police take away Korede’s car to submit it to forensic testing and then make her pay to return it to her, all dirty and in disarray), the voice of the narrator and her approach to things (very matter-of-fact, fully acknowledging her weaknesses, her less-than-endearing personality, sometimes lacking in insight  but also caring and reflective at times), and the ending as well. I also enjoyed the writing style. Short chapters, peppered with Yoruba terms, vivid and engaging, it flows well and it makes it feel even briefer than it is.

If you enjoy books with a strong sense of morality and providing deep lessons, this novel is not for you. Good and bad are not black and white in this novel, and there is an undercurrent of flippancy about the subject that might appeal to fans of Dexter more than to those who love conventional thrillers or mysteries. But if you want to discover a fresh new voice, love black humour, and are looking for an unusual setting, give it a go. I challenge you to check a sample and see… By the way, the date of publication varies according to format and location, so it might not be available yet depending on where you live…

Thanks to NetGalley, Doubleday, and to the author for the opportunity, thanks to all of you for reading , and remember to like, share, comment. click, review and keep smiling! 

 

 

 

Categories
Book review Book reviews

#TuesdayBookBlog Saigon Dark by Elka Ray (@ElkaRay) (@crimewavepress) A blend of psychological (noir) thriller with domestic drama, with a conflicted protagonist #Bookreview

Hi all:

I had this book on my list for a while and when I read it I realised it can fit in a category of books that seem to have become more and more popular recently. Those who read my blog regularly might remember our discussion about it (waving at you, Debby!).

Book review. Saigon Dark by Elka Ray
Saigon Dark by Elka Ray

Saigon Dark by Elka Ray

“There’s no way this book can be easily described – well written and fascinating subject matter is only the beginning. It could easily become a huge hit and also has all the hallmarks of a Noir classic.”

— Lissa Pelzer, Author & Crime Critic

A STORY ABOUT FAMILY, BETRAYAL AND BELONGING – AND HOW HARD WE FIGHT TO PROTECT THOSE WE LOVE.

In Saigon, a grief-stricken young American mother switches her dead child for a Vietnamese street kid. Then she returns to the US. Good and bad. Life and death. Some choices aren’t black and white

She remarries and starts to feel safe until she gets a note: ‘I know what you did’.
Can she save her daughter from her dark secret?

Links:

https://www.amazon.com/Saigon-Dark-Elka-Ray-ebook/dp/B01M4PZWBX/

https://www.amazon.co.uk/Saigon-Dark-Elka-Ray-ebook/dp/B01M4PZWBX/

Author Elka Ray
Author Elka Ray

About the author:

Born in the UK, and raised in Africa and Canada, Elka now lives in Central Vietnam. She’s the author of two novels, a short story collection and three kids’ books that she also illustrated. To learn more about Elka’s upcoming projects, please visit www.elkaray.com

https://www.amazon.com/Elka-Ray/e/B004VRXDM0/

My review:

Thanks to the publishers, Crime Wave, for providing me an ARC copy of this book that I freely chose to review.

This novel is a thriller that takes place within the domestic sphere and one of its unique features is that it is set (mostly) in Vietnam. The main character is a paediatric surgeon, Lily, whose family escaped to the United States when she was a child, and after studying Medicine decided to go back and work there. Although she is a successful professional, her personal life is not a happy one. Her husband, another doctor from a similar background to hers, has left her, and her youngest child, a little girl, suffers from a rare genetic condition, and she does not know how well she will develop. Tragedy strikes; the character seems unable to react rationally due to the pain and makes one disastrous decision after another. We all know that secrets have a way of coming back and biting us, and although Lily is quite lucky, not even she can escape the consequences of her actions, or can she? (I am trying not to reveal any spoilers).

The novel is told, in the first-person, from the point of view of Lily, and as was the case with a recent novel in the same/similar genre I read and reviewed, that might be a problem for some of the readers. It is impossible not to empathise with Lily, and although some of her reactions are bizarre, the author is very good at getting us inside her head and making us understand her disturbed mental state. Perhaps we think we would never do something like that, but we can understand why she does. Personally, I did not sympathise with her (or even like her very much) and at times felt very frustrated with her. I had to agree when one of the other characters told her that she was selfish, blind to other’s needs, and she never thought of anybody else. This is all the more evident considering her privileged existence in contrast to that of the general population, and how much of what happens is a direct result of her actions and her decisions, whilst others are victims of the circumstances with no options to escape. She seems to realise this towards the end, when even her son is more together than her, but all that notwithstanding, the action of the novel is gripping, and it is impossible not to feel curious about what will happen next and wonder if fate and karma will finally catch up with her.

The novel moves at a reasonable pace, at times we seems to be reading a standard domestic drama (about child-rearing and the relationship with her new husband), whilst at others it is an almost pure thriller, and we have blackmailers, red herrings, betrayals, and plenty of suspects. I think those two elements are well-combined and are likely to appeal to fans of both genres, although those who love hard thrillers might take issue with the amount of suspension of disbelief required to accept some of the events in the novel.

The ending is fairly open. Some questions (perhaps the main one) are resolved, but some others are not, and this might be frustrating for readers who prefer everything to be tied up in the end. There is a hint of some insight and growth in the character, but perhaps not enough considering the hard lessons she’s gone through.

There is some violence (although not extreme), serious issues are hinted at (domestic violence, poverty, bullying), and I particularly liked the realistic setting, and the way it depicts Vietnam, Hanoi and Saigon, the big social differences, and the expat scene.

In sum, a blend of psychological (noir) thriller with domestic drama, intriguing and heart-breaking at times, which takes place in an unusual and fascinating setting, recommended to those who don’t mind first-person narration and slightly open endings and who prefer their thrillers with more drama and less emphasis on procedural accuracy.

Thanks to the publishing company and the author, thanks to all of you for reading, and please, feel free to like, share, click, review, and above all, keep smiling!

Categories
Book review Book reviews

#Bookreview THE PARTY by Lisa Hall (@LisaHallAuthor) An unsettling page turner recommended to lovers of first-person narratives.#domesticnoir #thriller

Hi all:

I bring you a review of a novel in a genre that has become all the rage in recent times, domestic noir.

Book review. The Party by Lisa Hall
The Party by Lisa Hall

The Party: The gripping new psychological thriller from the bestseller Lisa Hall by Lisa Hall

It was just a party. But it turned into a nightmare.

‘Compelling, addictive…brilliant’ B A Paris

When Rachel wakes up in a strange room, the morning after a neighbour’s party, she has no memory of what happened the night before. Why did her husband leave her alone at the party? Did they row? Why are Rachel’s arms so bruised? And why are her neighbours and friends so vague about what really happened?

Little by little, Rachel pieces together the devastating events that took place in a friend’s house, at a party where she should have been safe. Everyone remembers what happened that night differently, and everyone has something to hide. But someone knows the truth about what happened to Rachel. And she’s determined to find them.

The Party is the gripping new novel from bestseller Lisa Hall.

Links:

https://www.amazon.co.uk/Party-gripping-psychological-thriller-bestseller-ebook/dp/B06W5RT7JD/

https://www.amazon.com/Party-gripping-psychological-thriller-bestseller-ebook/dp/B06W5RT7JD/

Editorial Reviews

‘A dark, compelling read that demands to be read in one sitting.’ Sam Carrington

Praise for Lisa Hall:

‘Breathlessly fast-paced and cleverly unsettling, this thriller about a couple trying to escape their past is the very definition of unputdownable.’ Heat

‘An uneasy creeping feeling followed me through the book – I was never quite sure who I should be trusting – I read this book in one sitting because I had to know what was going to happen next. An excellent thriller that had me hooked from the start.’ Katerina Diamond, author of The Secret

‘A paranoia-inducing plot that makes you question everyone! Lisa Hall’s new novel is one to get under your skin and has an ending that’ll leave you reeling.’ Sam Carrington, author of Saving Sophie

‘Gripping and unforgettable… and will leave you wondering who you should really trust…’ Inside Soap

‘What a page turner! Compelling, chilling and an incredibly impressive debut.’ Alex Brown

‘A gripping psychological thriller with a level of tension that will leave you breathless.’ Tracy Book Lover

‘Lisa Hall has yet again written an exciting, yet unnerving novel in TELL ME NO LIES. I was gripped, I was uneasy and I was utterly enthralled in every page, every word, every letter.’ Brunette’s Bookshelf

‘After reading this book I can guarantee that you will Never.Trust.Anyone.Ever.Again.’ My Reading Corner

Author Lisa Hall
Author Lisa Hall

 

About the author:

Lisa loves words, reading, and everything there is to love about books. She has dreamed of being a writer since she was a little girl – either that or a librarian – and after years of talking about it, was finally brave enough to put pen to paper (and let people actually read it). Lisa lives in a small village in Kent, surrounded by her towering TBR pile, a rather large brood of children, dogs, chickens and ponies and her long-suffering husband. She is also rather partial to eating cheese and drinking wine.
Readers can follow Lisa on Twitter @LisaHallAuthor

https://www.amazon.co.uk/Lisa-Hall/e/B01BGRIUXY/

My review:

Thanks to NetGalley and to HQ for providing me an ARC copy of this book that I freely chose to review.

This is an unsettling novel. It starts with a woman, Rachel, who wakes up after a New Year’s Eve party not remembering what has happened and feeling quite vulnerable, and as she tries to get her bearings and find out what went on, while keeping face (as she’s in one of her neighbours’ houses and feels more than a little embarrassed), she comes to realise that something horrible has taken place. The author’s use of first-person narration immerses the readers in Rachel’s mind and makes us share in her fear, confusion, and contradictory feelings. There is physical evidence that something has happened to her, but she cannot recall what, or who might have done the deed.

The story moves between the immediate aftermath of the story, in chronological order, and interspersed chapters that share the events prior to the party, always from the protagonist’s point of view, but they don’t reach into the faraway past and only takes us a few months back, giving us some background that helps us understand why the people closest to Rachel (especially her husband, Gareth) react as they do to the events.

In the present time, somebody starts playing with the protagonist, in a game of cat-and-mouse (which sometimes takes on gaslighting characteristics) and manages to make her doubt herself and everybody around her, from mere acquaintances to those closest and dearest to her.  The first-person point of view works well at making readers feel the claustrophobia, paranoia, anxiety, and sheer terror of not knowing who to trust and seeing your whole life crumble around you.

The book, which fits into the domestic noir category, uses well some of the tropes of the genre, including the protagonist who feels trapped and not taken seriously by the police and therefore has to do her own investigating. There are also plenty of red herrings and a number of credible suspects that make us keep turning the pages to see what will happen next, although readers of thrillers will probably guess who the culprit is (I did).

On the negative side, personally, I did not feel a connection to the characters, particularly Rachel. I empathised with her circumstances, and with the terrible crime she has survived, but I did not feel there is enough information provided about her to create a credible individual. One of the other characters at some point talks about her belief that she is a strong woman, and I wondered what that was based on, as we are only given snippets of her current life and her recent past, and nothing that makes her come alive (What does she like? What did she do before she got married? Does she have any passions, apart from her relationships? She has a friend but other than calling her for support, there is no indication of what that friendship is based on). She does things that are morally questionable, but that was not my issue (I have long defended unlikable main characters, but I still need to feel that they are real, somehow). I wondered if this was intentional, trying to make sure that everybody would be able to identify with Rachel and her plight, rather than making her too distinctive and individual, but, for me at least, the opposite is the truth, and we know enough about her to make her different from us, but not perhaps to make us feel as if we know who she is. This would not bother me so much in a standard plot-driven thriller, but when the book depends so closely on the protagonist’s voice and on her sense of identity, it didn’t gel for me. There were also some things that I thought readers who are not fond of first-person narratives might find annoying (like the character looking at herself in the mirror as a way of providing us a description, something that is frown upon in general writing advice, and a leaning towards telling rather than showing in the bulk of the writing).

The novel moves at a good pace, it creates doubt and hesitation in the readers’ minds, and it has a good sense of timing. And the ending will probably satisfy most fans of the genre. It also touches on an important and, sadly, topical subject, although it does not cover new ground. It brought to my mind C.L.Taylor’s The Fear and I noticed the author, Lisa Hall, had reviewed that novel. I have not read the author’s previous books, but I am curious to see how this compares to her other novels.

A page-turner I recommend to lovers of domestic noir, particularly those who enjoy claustrophobic and unsettling first-person narratives.

Thanks to NetGalley, HQ and the author for the book, thanks to all of you for reading, and remember to like, share, comment, click, review, and keep smiling!

 

Categories
Book review Book reviews

#Bookreview THE WOMAN IN THE WINDOW by A. J. Finn (@AJFinnBooks) A solid domestic-noir thriller with a familiar plot, unlikely to surprise those who love Hitchcock movies and habitual readers of thrillers #thiller #agoraphobia

Hi all:

This is a review of one of those books that you hear so much about that you either decide to ignore completely (because you feel as if you’ve already read it) or read it to see ‘what the fuss is about’. This time, and because the book hasn’t been out for that long yet, I went with the second option…

The Woman in the Window by A.J. Finn
The Woman in the Window by A.J. Finn

The Woman in the Window: A Novel by A. J. Finn

Instant #1 New York Times Bestseller!

“Astounding. Thrilling. Amazing.” —Gillian Flynn

“Unputdownable.” —Stephen King

“A dark, twisty confection.” —Ruth Ware

“Absolutely gripping.” —Louise Penny

For readers of Gillian Flynn and Tana French comes one of the decade’s most anticipated debuts, to be published in thirty-six languages around the world and already in development as a major film from Fox: a twisty, powerful Hitchcockian thriller about an agoraphobic woman who believes she witnessed a crime in a neighboring house.

It isn’t paranoia if it’s really happening . . .

Anna Fox lives alone—a recluse in her New York City home, unable to venture outside. She spends her day drinking wine (maybe too much), watching old movies, recalling happier times . . . and spying on her neighbors.

Then the Russells move into the house across the way: a father, a mother, their teenage son. The perfect family. But when Anna, gazing out her window one night, sees something she shouldn’t, her world begins to crumble—and its shocking secrets are laid bare.

What is real? What is imagined? Who is in danger? Who is in control? In this diabolically gripping thriller, no one—and nothing—is what it seems.

Twisty and powerful, ingenious and moving, The Woman in the Window is a smart, sophisticated novel of psychological suspense that recalls the best of Hitchcock.

 

https://www.amazon.com/Woman-Window-Novel-J-Finn/dp/0062678418/

(I couldn’t find it in digital version yet in Amazon.com but can’t be far)

Interestingly enough, this is the description in Amazon.co.uk:

THE NUMBER ONE NEW YORK TIMES BESTSELLER

GET READY FOR THE BIGGEST THRILLER OF 2018!

‘Astounding. Thrilling. Amazing’ Gillian Flynn

‘One of those rare books that really is unputdownable’ Stephen King

‘Twisted to the power of max’ Val McDermid

‘A dark, twisty confection’ Ruth Ware

What did she see?

It’s been ten long months since Anna Fox last left her home. Ten months during which she has haunted the rooms of her old New York house like a ghost, lost in her memories, too terrified to step outside.

Anna’s lifeline to the real world is her window, where she sits day after day, watching her neighbours. When the Russells move in, Anna is instantly drawn to them. A picture-perfect family of three, they are an echo of the life that was once hers.

But one evening, a frenzied scream rips across the silence, and Anna witnesses something no one was supposed to see. Now she must do everything she can to uncover the truth about what really happened. But even if she does, will anyone believe her? And can she even trust herself?

 

https://www.amazon.co.uk/Woman-Window-hottest-thriller-bestseller-ebook/dp/B074563H4L/

I wonder if they have a different description in each place… Let’s check…

In Canada, is the Amazon.com one.

In Australia the UK one… OK. Interesting… I’ll have to do more research into this…

Author A.J. Finn
Author A.J. Finn

About the author:

I’m A. J. Finn, author of THE WOMAN IN THE WINDOW — a debut novel that Stephen King describes as “remarkable” and I call “the best I could do.” Guess which quote appears on the jacket.

THE WOMAN IN THE WINDOW has been sold in 40 territories around the world and is currently in development as a major film at Fox 2000, to be produced by Oscar-winner Scott Rudin and written by Pulitzer winner Tracy Letts. I really want a cameo in the movie, in case anyone asks.

I spent a decade working in publishing in both New York and London, with a particular emphasis on thrillers and mysteries. Authors I published or helped acquire over the years include Robert Galbraith (aka J. K. Rowling), Agatha Christie, Patricia Cornwell, Carl Hiaasen, Sara Paretsky, and Nelson DeMille.

Now I write full-time, to the relief of my former colleagues. THE WOMAN IN THE WINDOW was inspired by a range of experiences: my lifelong love affair with suspense fiction, from the Sherlock Holmes stories I devoured as a kid to the work of Patricia Highsmith, whom I studied at the graduate level at Oxford; my passion for classic cinema, especially the films of Alfred Hitchcock; and my struggles with agoraphobia and depression. The result, I hope, is a psychological thriller in the vein of Gillian Flynn, Tana French, and Kate Atkinson, among others.

Stuff I love: reading; swimming; cooking; dogs; ice cream; travel. (Note that third semicolon. It’s crucial. I do not love cooking dogs.) Given the chance, I’d seriously consider cloning my late yellow Labrador, Tugboat (2001-2012) — one of history’s few truly perfect creations. I collect first-edition books and divide my time between New York and London.

https://www.amazon.com/A.-J.-Finn/e/B074BPQ4X3/

My review:

Thanks to NetGalley and to Harper Collins for providing me an ARC copy of this book that I freely decided to review.

I have been reading a lot of thrillers recently and kept coming across this book and, eventually, I thought I would read it. The description and the accolades mention Hitchcock and noir film and that convinced me I should read it.

Many of the reviews compare it to The Girl on the Train. Although I have watched the movie adaptation of that book, I haven’t read the novel, so I cannot compare the style, although yes, I agree that the story is very similar. This is more Rear Window (because the protagonist, Anna Fox, a psychologist, suffers from agoraphobia following a traumatic incident, and she is stuck at home, in New York) with touches of Body Double (I agree with the reviewer who mentioned that). It also brought to mind, for me, apart from the many Hitchcock and noir movies the character herself is so fond of (Shadow of a Doubt, The Lady Vanishes, Rope), some newer movies, like Copycat (the main protagonist is also a psychologist suffering from agoraphobia, in that case after being assaulted by a serial killer) and Murder by Numbers (that is a new treatment of Rope).

Anna is an unreliable narrator, and she tells us the story in the first-person (I know some readers don’t like that). I do like unreliable narrators, but I did not feel there was much new or particularly insightful here. She is a psychologist who seems to be able to help others with their problems (she joins an online chat and helps others suffering from agoraphobia) but is not capable of fully accepting or recognising her own (she sees a psychiatrist once a week but lies to him, does not take the medication as prescribed, keeps drinking alcohol despite being fully aware of its depressant effects and knowing that it should not be mixed with her medication), and lies to others, and what is worse, to herself. The fog produced by the alcohol and her erratic use of medication make her unreliable (and yes, some of her medication can cause hallucinations, so there’s that too), and although her predicament and her agoraphobia are well portrayed, because a big twist (that if you’ve read enough books will probably suspect from very early on) needs to remain hidden, for plot reasons, it is difficult to fully empathise with her. She is intelligent, she loves old movies, and she’s articulate (although her intelligence and her insight are dulled by her own behaviour and her state of mind), but we only get a sense of who she really is (or was, before all this) quite late in the book, and yes, perhaps she is not that likeable even then (in fact, she might become even less likeable after the great reveal). Don’t get me wrong. I’ve loved books where the main protagonist is truly dislikeable, but I am not sure that is intentional here, and I felt that the character follows the plot and accommodates to its needs, rather than the other way round.

The rest of the characters… well, we don’t know. As we see them from Anna’s perspective, and this is impaired, there is not much to guide us. She is paranoid at times and can change from totally depending on somebody and thinking they are the only person who can help her, to dismissing them completely (that detail is well portrayed), but although some of the characters are potentially intriguing, we don’t know enough about any of them to get truly interested. This is a novel about Anna, her disintegrating mind, the lies she tells herself, and how her being in the wrong place at the wrong time (or rather, looking at the wrong place at the wrong time) almost ends her life. For me, the needs of the plot and of making it an interesting page-turner end up overpowering some of the other elements that I think are truly well achieved (like her mental health difficulties).

The writing style is fluid and competent, and it is evident that the writer knows what readers of the genre will expect (yes, from his biography is easy to see he knows the knots and bolts of the profession), although, personally, I think people who don’t read thrillers regularly will find it more interesting than those who read them often, as avid thriller readers are likely to spot the twists and expect what is coming next early on. The agoraphobia aspects of the story are well written (and from his biography it is clear that the author has a first-hand knowledge of the condition), although I agree with some comments that the many mentions of the wine spilling down the carpet or on the character’s clothes, of opening another bottle, and abandoning a glass of wine somewhere could have been reduced, and we would still have got the message.

Lovers of film-noir and Hitchcock movies will enjoy the references to the films, some very open, and others more subtle, although the general level of the character’s awareness and her wit reduces as the book moves on due to the stress and pressure Anna is under. The ending… Well, I’m trying not to write any spoilers so I’ll keep my peace, although, let’s say you might enjoy the details, but there are not that many possible suspects, so you might guess correctly. (Yes, it does follow the standard rules).

In my opinion, this is a well-written book, that perhaps tries too hard to pack all the elements that seem required nowadays to make it big in the thriller genre: a female unreliable narrator, domestic problems (domestic noir), meta-fictional references to other books and films, twists and turns galore, witty dialogue (not so much, but yes, especially early on Anna can quote with the best of them), an action filled ending with a positive/hopeful message. I enjoyed the descriptions of Anna’s agoraphobia and, particularly, the way the house becomes another character (that is what I felt gave it most of its noir feel).  People who don’t read many thrillers or watch many movies in the genre are more likely to be surprised and thrilled than those who do, as the storyline will be very familiar to many. I am intrigued to see what the writer will produce next, and I am not surprised to hear that the book’s film adaptation rights have been already bought. That figures.

Thanks to NetGalley, to the publisher, and to the author for the book, thanks to all of you for reading and remember to like, share, comment, click and REVIEW!

[amazon_link asins=’B002RSOTSM,B002RPI2QK,B000I9YLXU,B000I9WW2M,B002W7H3EA,B002RXS1VS,B004VFK5LO,1594634025′ template=’ProductCarousel’ store=’wwwauthortran-20′ marketplace=’US’ link_id=’78083f03-15cf-11e8-8a84-69cf69588d6a’]

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